It’s very important to understand how to get paid as a freelancer, on time and every time by your clients.
Even if you’re just starting out and aren’t quite yet completely reliant on your freelance income to pay your bills, setting the tone for timely payments will help save you from having to track them down later.
You also look like a true professional when you’re clear about your payment terms.
Remember, you’re not just a writer — you’re a business owner.
To run your business successfully, you need to be paid when you say payment is due — not whenever clients feel like paying you.
Trust me, you don’t want to be sitting around anxiously waiting for a payment to come through, or having to waste time writing emails or calling the client directly to try and get them to finally pay you.
That’s not a smart way to make use of your time.
Here’s everything you need to know to for how to get paid as a freelancer on time and every time.
Note: This blog post contains affiliate links to certain resources I recommend (and use myself). This means that I may earn a commission if any of my readers click on my link and make a purchase.
Discuss Payment in Detail Before Anything Is Set in Stone
We all want to believe that as long as both client and freelancer are willing to work together on a project, everything will run as smoothly as possible — including payments.
Unfortunately, that’s not how reality works.
Don’t even think about agreeing to work together and sending over a contract to the client before you’ve discussed payment terms.
In fact, I recommend asking the following questions as soon as possible.
You should also have these questions ready in your back pocket when filtering out potentially bad clients who contact you via email or social media about a project they have in mind:
Question: “Have you worked with freelancers before? If yes, how did that go? If not, why?”
You’re going to need more information whether the client has or hasn’t worked with freelancers before.
Ideally, you want to work with clients that have lots of good experience working with freelancers, however it’s not an absolute must.
Smaller and/or newer businesses may have no experience working with freelancers (yet), but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker.
Find out as much as you can about a potential client’s past/current experiences with freelancers or why they’d like to start working with you as a freelancer.
Question: “Who is responsible for paying me?”
If you’re writing for a small client type with just a couple of employees, chances are that the business owner will be the one paying you manually upon receiving your invoice.
However, if you’re writing for a larger business with 50+ employees, several different departments, and lots of other freelancers working for them, then you might find that you’ll be put into a very structured, automated payment system led by the payroll department.
Regardless, you definitely want to have the contact information for the person who’s responsible for paying you.
Question: “When can I expect to receive payment?”
If you’re quoting on a larger project that involves multiple deposits in phases, then you’ll be the one setting the payment terms and explaining very clearly to the client when each is due.
However, if you’re working on a more straightforward one-off or recurring project, it’s never a bad idea to ask this question to get an idea of when the client expects you to be paid.
If the client has worked with freelancers before, then you definitely want to ask this.
Typically, most clients will pay you on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis.
Some will require you to send them an invoice.
Others won’t and will just pay you according to the payment terms.
Again, you’ll need to discuss this with the client.
Question: “What payment methods do you use?”
There are typically three main payment methods that clients use to pay freelancers:
- Direct deposit
Direct deposit is always the most convenient for the freelancer, but it’s not always a viable option — particularly if you’re working with international clients.
As a Canadian writer who often works U.S. clients, I almost always get paid by PayPal or check (in Canadian English it’s “cheque”) simply because direct deposit isn’t an option for me.
I have, however, been able to receive payments by wire transfer from a large company I worked for — the only downside being that my bank transfer fees were $15 for every deposit.
Being paid by check is ideal if you want to avoid transaction fees, but it’s far less convenient since you either have to wait for it to arrive in the mail or go pick it up yourself if the client is local.
PayPal is the most internationally friendly way to accept and receive payment, but you can expect to pay 2.9% plus $0.30 in transaction fees for each payment received.
You need to know which payment method your client prefers so you can make it easier for them to pay you.
You also need to plan to have your money a little later than expected if you’re being paid by check, or consider charging a bit more to cover any transaction fees if you’re going the PayPal (or other online payment processor) route.
Create a Professional Legal Contract
After discussing the payment terms in detail with the client and agreeing on everything, it’s time to put it in writing.
And by writing, I mean a contract.
A contract is required to help protect both you and the client.
For you, specifically, it’s the number one most important thing you need in order to get paid.
If a client signs a contract with you and then doesn’t follow through on the payment terms, you have grounds to go after them legally and collect your payment.
Of course, clients that actually agree to sign your contract will rarely ever do this, so the likelihood of you having to actually hire a lawyer and go after them is slim to none.
If a client signs your contract, then they’re acting just as professional as you are and have good intentions for your partnership.
If a client gives you a hard time about signing a contract, they could be getting ready to scam you.
That’s a clear sign that you should avoid them like the plague.
If you work for a client without a contract, they can refuse to pay you or disappear completely and you won’t be able to do anything about it.
It happened to me when I was first starting out, luckily only for a couple hundred dollars worth of work, but I never let it happen ever again.
To ensure you’ll be paid on time, your contract must include:
- The effective dates
- Services to be provided
- Compensation details (including the rate or exact dollar amount to be paid, percentages/due dates if multiple deposits are required, and the payment method).
Sometimes, the client provides a contract for you.
This is particularly common with larger companies that frequently work with freelancers.
If this is the case, it’s your responsibility to go over the contract carefully (potentially with a lawyer) before signing it.
If the client isn’t providing a contract, then you need to provide one.
You have three options here:
- Use a free template that you find online, which is typically vague and was almost certainly not created by a legal professional (and therefore not legally protective).
- Hire a lawyer and pay them potentially thousands of dollars to create a contract for you.
- Purchase this customizable freelance contract template that was created by a real business lawyer for a fraction of the price of hiring a lawyer to create one for you.
Number three is your best option and I highly recommend it.
The lawyer behind it is Amira Ifran, a business lawyer turned business blogger and entrepreneur.
She’s recently exploded her new online business, creating professional legal templates for online business owners so they don’t have to fork over an arm and a leg by hiring a lawyer the traditional way.
The benefit is that you get a contract template that was created by a real lawyer (so you know it’s legit) and you can easily customize it in a matter of minutes for any client.
Amira’s legal templates are a lifesaver not just for me, but for online business owners everywhere.
If you want to be paid on time and protected legally, get this contract template now.
You won’t regret it.
Have An Invoicing Plan
I mentioned previously that not all clients will require you to send an invoice.
For those that do, however, you need to do invoice intelligently.
Use Professional Invoicing and Accounting Software
I’ve been using FreshBooks for years and love it.
When I was first getting started with my business, I created invoices in Microsoft Word documents, but it proved to be just too manual of a process to stick with in the long run — plus I needed a better way to keep track of revenue and expenses.
A FreshBooks Lite plan is just $6 a month, which lets you store up to five clients at a time.
I use this plan because I rarely ever have more than four or five clients at a time, and you can always delete them (without deleting any of their invoices or payment information of course) when you stop working with them and move on to a new client.
Make Your Invoices Due Upon Receipt
A standard invoicing practice involves including the “Net 30” term somewhere on your invoices, or alternatively a note specifying that the amount is due 30 days after the invoice was sent.
I used to do this, but I no longer recommend it.
Because it gives the client an excuse to procrastinate on sending your payment.
Picture this: The client opens your invoice you just emailed them, sees that they have a month to pay you, closes it, and then completely forgets about it.
Then you have to send follow-up reminders to get them to pay you.
Can you tell I’ve been through this before?
Instead, I recommend creating your invoices as “Due Upon Receipt.”
This tells the client that they need to pay you as soon as they receive the invoice.
This of course should be made clear in your initial conversation about payment terms.
The client absolutely must know that you need to be paid once the invoice is received.
Tip: If you have a client that you need to invoice regularly for recurring work — such monthly for blog post writing on a six-month term — you can set up automated recurring invoices in FreshBooks so they’re sent out automatically.
Offer PayPal As a Payment Option
Lastly, if you plan on accepting payments via PayPal, which I recommend mostly for ease and convenience, you can integrate your FreshBooks account with your PayPal account to make it even easier for clients.
When clients receive your invoice, they can click a PayPal button directly on your invoice and pay you in just a couple simple steps.
This is just one extra thing you can do to make it super easy for busy business owners to pay you quickly and on time.
There’s so much more you can do with FreshBooks and it honestly deserves a blog post of its own, which I might just do in the future.
It’s free for 30 days!
Set Up Late Reminders and Optionally Charge a Late Fee for Late Payments
This can be a very effective strategy to ensure you get paid on time, but you absolutely must make sure that the client knows about it and it must be included in your contract.
With FreshBooks, you can set up automated late payment reminders to be sent out a certain number of days before or after the payment due date.
I’ve used it and it works well.
It also takes the pressure off of you for having to reach out to them personally about it.
If you want to take it a step further, you can set your FreshBooks client settings so it automatically adds a flat fee or a percentage of the invoiced amount to the invoice after a certain number of days of it remaining unpaid.
I’ve never charged a late payment fee, but I’m sure it works well as a preventative measure just by making clients aware.
Of course, if a client does end up paying after the due date and having to pay the late fee, it will probably serve as a good lesson for the client to avoid paying you late again after that.
Consider All the Extra Stuff That Can Impact Payment Timing
I’ve gone over the three most important things you can do to ensure you’ll get paid on time by your clients:
- Discuss payment in as much detail as possible alongside the project discussion.
- Create a legal contract and get the client to sign it.
- If invoicing, use software to streamline and even automate the process.
But it doesn’t just stop there.
Now it’s time to think about all the project-related events that could potentially impact when you get paid.
Here are some common things to consider.
Set Expectations for Projects With Multiple Phases
Let’s say you’ve completed the first draft of a project and you sent it to the client to review, but being the busy individual that they are, they decide to take as much time as they want getting to it.
Meanwhile the date is quickly approaching for you to invoice them and get paid.
If the client doesn’t get back to you in the next day or two, you won’t have enough of the work done in order to invoice them because they (not you) were late.
Here are some tips to help prevent this kind of conundrum:
- Get an upfront deposit before you start working on anything. (You can specify deposit amounts directly in your FreshBooks invoices.)
- Schedule meetings or deadlines ahead of time with the client to go over the project progress and get feedback.
- State in the contract that payment is due upon receipt of invoices regardless of whether the client provides feedback in a timely matter or not.
Specify How Many Edits Are Included in Your Services
Every freelance writer dreams of finishing up every project with zero edit requests from the client.
Sure, it can happen, but don’t count on it happening every time!
To avoid being taken advantage of by super nit-picky clients who keep sending your work back for edit request after edit request after edit request, consider stating in your contract that your services include up to two edit requests (up to a maximum of three).
This is very reasonable.
If, after a couple of edits, the client still wants more editing to be done, you still get to be paid (and you can charge more for an additional edit if you want).
Of course, chances are you won’t want to continue working for a client that makes that many edit requests and seems impossible to satisfy.
Changing Details or Entire Components of the Project
Here’s the thing with freelancing: Things can change in the middle of your project.
Maybe the client asks you to start doing a little extra copywriting here, or a little extra image-related work there.
Maybe the whole scope of the project changes.
Whatever changes happen — big or small — they need to be worked into an updated version of your contract.
Even if the client says that they’ll pay you an additional fee for the extra time and work it will take you to do something, it’s important to update your contract to include it.
It’s just not worth the risk to take their word for it.
Lastly, remember that it’s not the end of the world if a client misses your payment on a rare occasion.
What I find is that most of these types of clients (business owners or employees of small- to medium-sized businesses that manually pay freelancers) are just super busy and they can easily forget.
You have every right to remind them and even bring it up for discussion if it becomes a regular occurrence.
It often just takes a quick email or phone call to get paid.
How do you make sure you get paid on time by your clients?
Let me know any extra tips you have for how to get paid as a freelancer!
If they’re really good, I might even update this blog post to include them. 🙂